Vine to Wine

Find a wine movie for a quiet New Year's Eve

By Tom Bender

The holiday stretch has always been a popular time to check out current movies and is usually loaded with a wide range of new releases.

But if you are like me and a quiet New Year’s Eve is part of your plan, consider viewing a favorite wine-connected flick over a glass of wine.

As we all know, it has become much easier to stream hard-to-find movies, including films that have a wine-related theme. While there are a handful of them that are fictional stories with recognizable actors, there are an equal number of wine documentaries that can be both entertaining and informative to most wine enthusiasts. Here are some favorite featured films and docs to seek out. I also provide a few suitable wine matches.

No other wine-related film had a bigger impact than the 2004 Oscar-nominated movie, “Sideways.” With its focus on two characters taking a weekend-long wine trip to the California Southern Coast wine country, it is filled with comic, wine-geek moments testing their friendship, relationships, and the search for a perfect Pinot Noir. And Merlot has never been the same since this film. Search out a Pinot Noir from Santa Maria or Santa Rita Hills to help set the mood.

Another feature film that got some wide play was “Bottle Shock.” Although it takes ample liberties telling the story of the famous “Judgment in Paris” blind tasting, it does an entertaining job of highlighting the event that pitted French wines against California wines and enviably put Napa Valley on the global wine map. Conduct your own judgment day with a matinee blind tasting of a Napa Chardonnay or Cabernet against a French White Burgundy or red Bordeaux.

If you are a bit of a wine geek like me, then consider checking out one of several wine documentaries that provide a wide range of fascinating info and, in some cases, much-needed humor.

The movie “Somm” follows four wine professionals trying to take it to the ultimate next step. We follow them through their studies as they prepare to take the rigorous test to become a certified Master Sommelier. I showed this film to my college wine class and worried that they might be bored with the over-the-top wine details and intense tasting study habits the movie portrays. But that was not the case. They stayed tuned in to find out the final results and rout for their favorite candidates. A follow-up movie, “Somm Two,” came out earlier this year and features some of the most influential winemakers, vineyards and sommeliers from around the world. For your own homework assignment, open a bottle of our local Calaveras School Street Chardonnay or Barbera with the film.

Although it is now 13 years old, “Mondovino” is still a revealing examination of the wine industry. Produced with simple filming equipment, it takes a look at corporate influences and the desire for growing profits at the expense of wine artistry. It runs a little long, so open a bottle or two from your favorite small foothill winery and be thankful for their individuality.

One of the more striking docs is “Red Obsession.” This slick movie focuses on China but includes the rest of the world’s desire for the wines of Bordeaux France. It examines the status-crazed and outrageous pricing of the famous wine region. Produced about four years ago, it might be a little outdated as the tide has actually turned for Bordeaux, and the Chinese have moved their buying habits to Burgundy. Dig out an older bottle of overpriced French red for this one.

If winemaking skills are of interest to you and you are considering a winemaking career, then check out a small documentary film called “American Wine Story.” It follows the several aspiring winemakers and their obsession and exhausting commitment to the grape. If you know a home winemaker, invite them over for the evening and ask them to bring a bottle of their wine over for this screening. But skip the popcorn.

If you need some New Year’s Eve romance mixed with your wine, check out “A Good Year,” with Russell Crow inheriting a French vineyard.

Searching for a few laughs while being informative? Look for John Cleese’s “Wine for the Confused.” Or start your new year with a year’s worth of grape growing and winemaking by watching the documentary “A Year in Burgundy.”

So settle in this weekend with corkscrew in hand. And if binge watching is your approach, sip slowly.

Have a good holiday, and best to you and your family for a wonderful new year!

Sonora-area resident Tom Bender has taught classes on wine in Columbia College’s Culinary Arts program since 1979. He managed the Columbia City Hotel, and its award-winning wine cellar, for many years and now manages a wine bar at a Modesto specialty market. He is also a wine maker. Contact him at wineguy@goldrush.com .

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The Union Democrat
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